Mental Health Purpose of Teaching

Teaching and Tragedy

Tragedy has become the new normal for teachers and professors. Children are murdered in schools, unarmed black Americans are murdered by the state, students die by suicide, extreme weather events kill and displace countless people, Asian Americans and trans people are violently harassed, threatened, and killed. And this list isn’t even close to being exhaustive.

How do we face a classroom of students looking to us for guidance? Many of us don’t know where to start and we worry about saying the wrong thing or compounding harm. Some of us, at least some of the time, might wish we lived in a world or a time where we weren’t called to offer comfort and support to grieving and hurting students. 

And while most of us are not trained counselors, we can help in our small way. We can connect students with resources. We can take a moment to acknowledge tragedy. We can create spaces where students can reflect silently or together. We can reach out to students who seem particularly disengaged or distressed. 

None of this is easy. Here are some resources that can help us build strategies and approaches that fit who we are and our own comfort providing solace and support.

Nothing can ever fully prepare us to face tragedy. There are no easy formulas, and we each have our own histories and strengths. Nonetheless, our students rely on us to help them make sense of the senseless. We can draw on our disciplines and our humanity to be present to their pain. I take heart from the wisdom of people like Rachel Naomi Remen who teaches that though we cannot fix or solve many problems, that doesn’t mean we cannot offer courage and resilience, if not the possibilities of healing.